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Lowrie a refreshing reminder for Red Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  April 19, 2011 10:19 AM

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Jed Lowrie is the rarest of rarities on the 2011 Red Sox, a young man still looking to prove himself, still fighting for the chance. Based on the formula to calculate the luxury tax, the Red Sox are toting a payroll of roughly $180 million this season. Maybe it says something that the man currently carrying them is earning a paltry $450K.

So there you go. Proof that money isn't everything. Proof that hunger still counts for something and that every team needs grinders, too. Proof that, as Tommy Harper once told Carl Everett, the superstars get treated differently on the 1st and 15th of every month, but that they otherwise are required to do the same things everyone else does.

And that the role players are every bit as capable of having an impact.

In this case, too, the role player is forcing the issue, which is precisely what this Red Sox team needed in the wake of a 2-10 start during which the Sox looked positively catatonic. You had to wonder if the Sox knew they had to actually, you know, win the 100 games many were earmarking them for. The Red Sox have 14 players on their current roster earning an average salary of $5 million or more, 15 if you toss in Clay Buchholz, who signed a contract extension after Opening Day that would elevate him to that class.

Is it any real wonder, then, that the Sox came out and out and played like a collection of silver spoons rather than Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers?

Fact: Every team needs some balance of experience and youth, for different reasons. The old guys tend to keep things together during losing streaks. The young guys tend to bring an urgency that is required to compete. The Red Sox have at least a pair of relatively high-priced players who are blessed with uncharacteristic intensity -- Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, after all, are largely self-made -- but much of the Boston roster is otherwise comprised of high draft picks and would-be bonus babies who reached the big leagues on pure, God-given talent.

What you never know about those players is whether they will fight the way Josh Beckett learned to fight, or that Jon Lester learned to fight, or, for that matter, Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield or David Ortiz. In the case of the last three, their ability is just not what it used to be. But do we really know yet about the fight in Jacoby Ellsbury or Carl Crawford, Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard? The sample simply has not been big enough. Ellsbury had a fabulous World Series in 2007, but nobody really knew him then. Crawford has a career on-base percentage of .287 in the postseason. Buchholz and Bard still fall into the category of relative unknowns, though the former now has basically the same price tag that Lester does.

In the case of Lowrie, he is yet another first-round pick (45th overall) whose road to the big leagues has been filled with more adversity than most. Lowrie had wrist problems. Then he had mononucleosis. His development had been delayed to the point where he was venturing into dangerous territory, that of a 27-year-old who never fulfilled his potential and who was destined for a nomadic career as either a utility man or an office worker.

When Lowrie finally returned to the majors last year, he was desperate, which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Just ask the Bruins.) In 55 games, Lowrie subsequently batted .287 with a .907 OPS. Along with Adrian Beltre, he was among the most positive developments in an otherwise frustrating Red Sox season.

This year, when Lowrie showed up for spring training, the Red Sox had him penciled in as their utility man, the shortstop job belonging to Marco Scutaro. Now, at the very least, that spot in the lineup is open to debate. Lowrie still has a great deal to prove, the first being whether he can remain healthy. Beyond that, he needs to show that he can consistently hit well enough from the left side to warrant playing full time, because we all know that he can hit from the right.

In his career, including this season, Lowrie now has a career OPS of 1.006 as a righthanded hitter. From the left side, the number is .677. The good news? Since the start of last season, Lowrie's OPS as a lefthanded batter is .836, better than any Red Sox player but David Ortiz against right-handed pitching.

Now, Lowrie just needs to prove that is a not a fluke.

In the bigger picture, the impact Lowrie is having on the Sox is profound, and not solely because he has hit. From top to bottom, the Boston lineup seems to slot better when Lowrie is in the mix. Still the possessors of a 5-10 record, the Red Sox have won three straight entering tonight's miniseries opener against the Oakland A's, looking far more like the team we expected than the team we have actually seen. Truth be told, the Toronto series should have been a four-game sweep. The Red Sox outscored the Jays in the final three games, 21-3, and in the series, 27-10, and Boston's only loss came in a game Lowrie did not start.

In the series against Toronto, Lowrie went 9 for 15 with two home runs, eight RBI and seven runs scored.

Presumably, Lowrie will be the shortstop again tonight at The Coliseum, particularly given that the A's are due to start lefthander Brett Anderson. Another lefty, Gio Gonzalez, is due to start against the Sox tomorrow. We all know that Lowrie cannot continue to hit as his current pace. But what Lowrie can continue to give the Red Sox is quality at-bats, particularly versus lefthanders against whom the Sox might otherwise be vulnerable. And he can continue to give them something they lacked in the earliest part of this season.

He can give them a reminder that every baseball game is a competition, that victories, like jobs, are earned and not given.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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